Agile Marketing with Hubspot's Mike Volpe

Agile Marketing With Hubspot's Mike Volpe

Fri Nov 15, 2013

This week I had the opportunity to see Mike Volpe, VP of Marketing for Hubspot, explain how Hubspot does Agile Marketing at a talk sponsored by the Boston Agile Marketing Meetup group. Hubspot was one of the forerunners of taking agile development processes and applying them to marketing deliverables. Hubspot has evolved over the course of several years, and it was fascinating to see what worked for them as they grew.

Agile Reduces Stress on Marketing

Mike talked about the pressures that led them to try agile. Their Marketing team had a mountain of work to do, with new requests coming up all the time. As a result, their priorities were unclear, which led to inefficiency. Projects would be started, and because priorities were constantly changing, they wouldn’t be completed. And once something was done, it wasn’t clear that anyone knew about it.

Noticing that this exactly described the pressures on their engineering team, Hubspot wanted to see if the processes that worked for development could work for marketing. They found that applying agile methodology:

  1. provided more visibility and transparency on what they were doing 
  2. allowed more flexibility to change course, but in a way that was manageable 
  3. increased throughput by knowing what the priorities were and not attempting to do too many things at once 
  4. provided a structured way to manage requests because they would be analyzed at the beginning of each sprint.

How Agile Works at Hubspot

Hubspot works in month-long sprints, both in development and in marketing. At the beginning of each month, they plan the work that will be delivered in that month and commit to completing it. All other work then sits in the backlog of items. Once the sprint begins, unless something is mission critical, nothing new is added to the list of deliverables.

At first, marketing kept their sprints separate from development, but they quickly aligned because the entire company culture revolved around monthly deliverables. Planning for a sprint is done in a condensed period at the beginning of each sprint. As one sprint is finished, they take stock and determine what to do next. At the end of each sprint, they conduct a sprint review and share what they’ve done with the rest of the organization. This practice has trailed off as the company has grown, and one of the things Mike was concerned about was how at their current size and scale to best present this information to the organization. While all activity is available via an internal wiki, there is almost too information for a person to consume.

A Culture of Measurement

Coinciding with, but not necessarily integrated into their agile process, is a culture of measurement. Hubspot aggressively measures the impact of their marketing activities. There are times when specific metrics or goals are flagged as part of a sprint’s activities (e.g. 25,000 leads), but this kind of measurement happens regardless of what is specifically being delivered at one time.

One thing I found interesting was that Hubspot marketing does not attempt to capture all of their activity as part of their agile deliverables. Mike said that on average a marketer is only 50% dedicated to his or her sprint activities, and that the other 50% might be just “doing their job,” such as participating in social media or replying to media queries. There also wasn’t a daily discipline of tracking whether things were on target to be completed through mechanisms such as story points or burndowns, two key concepts in agile development. While some may find that “anti-agile”, I think that’s great. Agile should be about common sense, not dogma. Use what works for you to be productive.

All in all, I found it inspiring to see a model of marketing that we ourselves believe in be so successful. While we do things somewhat differently at Percussion, the sprint of plan, commit, deliver, and measure is central to our team. We have lived by agile development for quite some time, and like Mike we have found that agile has helped in our clarity, throughput, and transparency–all critical to a successful company culture. As we’ve moved our marketing department to agile, we’ve seen the same results. We’re able to be more responsive to sales, drive better throughput, and in turn, greater results.

Photo credit: Tom Beach
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Dan Flanigan
Vice President of Products | Percussion Software

Dan is a product management specialist with over 15 years of experience building new enterprise products and launching them successfully to market. He has extensive customer and sales facing experience, outlining product solutions that have been successful for customers from 300 to 300,000 employees. Well over 3 million users are using products he has launched. In his spare time, Dan spends his disposable income on Apple products and dreams of seeing his name in TechCrunch.